Koinonia, regularly translated as fellowship, is a word that has become quite significant in our time of lockdowns, social distancing and mask-wearing. While all those measures are essential to keep us protected against the coronavirus, they have also made us a little more distant and less connected to one another.
The term koinonia is used nine times in the New Testament. We first encounter it in Acts 2:42, where Luke recalls that the early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and the prayers”. Most of us probably heard this word in a prayer when Paul’s words, “may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Love of God and the fellowship (koinonia) of the Holy Spirit be with you all”, are quoted. Let us look at some of the places where we can see different manifestations of koinonia in the Bible and then see how practically it is relevant to us.
The first and most significant manifestation of koinonia is found in the Trinity. The Trinity is the communion of three members, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is fellowship in its purest form, untainted by pride, greed or envy. It is a perfect eternal, and loving fellowship. From that communion, one experiences everything that is good: Love, forgiveness and redemption.
The next time we see the manifestation of koinonia is in the incarnation. Here, we meet the perfect communion of divinity and humanity. In the incarnation, Jesus, who is fully divine, also becomes fully human. Jesus, who is the radiance of the glory of God, and is seated at the right hand of God, also is our Brother (Hebrews 1:3). John in his beautiful prologue, affirms the perfect communion between God and mankind as he says, “the Word became flesh and dwelled among us” (John 1:14).
The church as the manifestation of Christ’s body, not as a social group or an institution, is another example of koinonia. As Christ is the head and we are part of the body, we realise that all parts play an essential role.
Koinonia pervades every practical thing we experience as Christians. In our personal spiritual life, we pray to God. We speak to Him like we speak to a friend. We open the Bible to meditate on the Word of God and understand His will. These acts of personal piety allow us to have fellowship with God.
We experience koinonia with one another when we gather on Sabbath morning to celebrate creation, redemption and glorification. We share this fellowship (koinonia) every time we gather for communion. There we wash each others’ feet, break bread symbolising the body of Christ and drink grape juice, symbolising the blood of Jesus. Every time we have potluck lunches, we experience koinonia.
In conclusion, as we consider the significance of the word koinonia, let us remember the words of Ellen White:
“As brethren of our Lord, we are called with a holy calling to a holy, happy life. Having entered the narrow path of obedience, let us refresh our minds by communion with one another and with God. As we see the day of God approaching, let us meet often to study His Word and to exhort one another to be faithful unto the end. These earthly assemblies are God’s appointed means by which we have opportunity to speak with one another and to gather all the help possible to prepare, in the right way, to receive in the heavenly assemblies the fulfilment of the pledges of our inheritance” (OHC 166.3).
Hensley Gungadoo is a Lecturer at the Avondale University College seminary.